SKAMP’s first Irish interview as published on www.irismagazine.net in 2003
Dublin born Erica Jennings can’t walk down the street where she lives without getting stared at. She’s a household name. Every music lover knows her; every kid has her poster on their wall. According to band mate Vee Diawara’You got Madonna, Britney Spears and Erica!’
Erica (Lyrics/Vox) along with Vee (Producer/Composer) and Vili Alesius (Lyrics/Rap) make up Skamp, the biggest live band to come out of Lithuania in the past five years. Now based in Vilnius, Lithuania via Tanzania where does she call home? And why don’t we know her? ‘Well, I dunno really, where my home is in that sense. I know Im Irish I loved living in Africa. On the other side I know that I love Vilnius. I’ve been there for seven years, had my whole music career start there, met Vee and Vili – everything started there, musically’
Erica’s Dublin accent has picked up a certain continental flavour to it. Between the band they speak five languages. ‘Not me, he has! (pointing to Vee) I’m terrible at languages‘. Vee explains, ‘It doesn’t matter for us …where you are, you can communicate. Altogether, we lived in Germany, France, Africa, Ireland, Lithuania, a bit in Russia, so we kinda understand the culture. It’s a big gift that we have been given – that we can incorporate it into our music. We can have people understand us all over the world, that’s pretty great.
Skamp’s live show has set them apart from their peers, working with sessions musicians, now part of the Skamp family. Playing everything from Folk Festivals to Rock Festivals, the band are eager not to pigeon hole themselves. Vee explains ‘You can take a song, jazz it up, make it into a dance song. Our fans in the Baltics love coming because they almost never hear the song the same way’ says Vee. While Erica concludes ’Give them something different to listen to so they can see it’s a show and not what they listen to at home. Depending on where we’re playing or who we are playing for we’l adapt to that. It’s different cultural backgrounds and different musical backgrounds and we’ll mash it up into one. We all enjoy experimenting.
So is that where Skamp’s name comes from? Yeah Savos Kampos (Lithunaian) your own corner, where you sit wherever you want nobody bothers you. Vee continues ‘We had a lot of problems with record companies, (telling us) you don’t have a style. You’ve got to be a R’N’B band or a Hip Hop band. I think there will be more and more bands mixing styles.’
So how does a band overcome that? You set up your own label and manage yourself. The band set up Tabami Records last year and so far has had two releases on the label. After 4 albums they feel its time to move on. For their next release the band have their sights set on ‘making it’in the Baltics, some of Europe and of course Ireland. ‘We don’t want to do the same thing again, we want to make a further step. We don’t want to stay at the same point’, says Erica. ‘We’ve had 15,000 people come to our gigs and for Lithunaia that’s huge. We’ve done very well in Lithuania but now its time to get out of there’, agrees Vee.
So all the promotional trips and expenses are paid out of their own pockets but they are lucky. All the money that the band have made they have used wisely, buying a bus, setting up the label, property for offices and a recording studio. They are totally independent, not having to rely on anyone. Erica says ‘We put everything into the music and furthering our careers, we don’t spend it on ourselves, we don’t go on holidays. Our music brings us everywhere’.
Could Skamp have done it anywhere else? ‘The fact that we do a show, we play live and mix styles is unusual for Lithuania, it could have gone either way. The standard of living is much lower than Ireland so it is easier to get by but you don’t get paid! We only get money from our concerts, Royalty wise…albums cost 3.50 in the shop. The popular thing in Lithuania is to play a CD and mime along.Vee tells me ‘It is an album market there is no singles chart or anything. The music scene itself, you don’t have an alternative, not many rock bands. If we play in a festival, there will be seven acts, most of the time we will be the only one playing live, they won’t even switch on their microphone. Lithuania, musically, it’s going down’.
Being household names in Lithuania, their faces on every magazine cover, Skamp are enjoying the anonymity of Dublin at the moment. ‘Us guys can go out’, Vee says but Erica.. ‘she cannot go out. No bu*****t’ Amazing as it seems they owe a lot of their popularity to the Eurovision, as they represented Lithuania in 1991, finishing 13th. ‘All the grannies saw it!’
Eurovision eh? ‘It’s not our kind of festival. It was good because we understood what we don’t want to do and the direction that we really don’t want to go in and that’s that way! Terry Wogan was nice. He made nice comments about us’
Erica and Vili have both released solo albums with Vee on production duties. Having won awards for Best Producer, Vee also works with numerous other bands. With a studio at his disposal Vee has come up with a lot of material yet to be released. The band give me a demo CD of 15 tracks, which they are using for promotion but in Lithunaia this CD is eagerly awaited new material. Erica has also appeared on the Living Theatre compilation series, released through Universal. Two of Erica’s tracks have been chosen to be on a remix album by Tracy Young who has remixed for Pink, Shakira, Christina Aguilera and also remixed Madonna’s Music.
Does releasing solo material affect the band in any way? ‘Generally no problems, whatever you want to do Erica then tells ‘people have tried to pull me away. They have offered a lot of big contracts to go solo but that’s not where I’m coming from. I’m really comfortable making music with Vee. I don’t want to go.’
Erica describes the band as quietly political’ and they get involved in social issues. ‘For Lithuania we’re political. We don’t like stuff and if we don’t like it we will speak up’ Skamp have been involved with ‘I Can’, a project dealing with adolescent issues. They like kids knowing their rights and having their own point of view and being able to be vocal about them. We know that everyone knows us, if you can do something for kids, they are more likely to listen to you or be interested in what you’re interested in rather than your parents so its a good opportunity for us to help them.
Vee admits, ‘I like this idea of being a role model because I can be a rock star, do all the boozing.’ Admitting that they do everything every 25-year-old does, Skamp keep their private life private, telling me that they have a ‘Squeaky clean image‘ in Lithuania. The press don’t give them too much grief just writing about their music. ‘We don’t fill up newspapers just for the sake of it with our trivial stuff.‘
But Skamp seems to be treated like Smash Hits cover stars. Does it bother them? ‘We’re kinda Smash Hits. We are respected by all the biggest musicians. We are mainstream, we are popular but when we come to do a show we can do it, they respect us for that because we’re not lying we’re not faking.‘ So in Ireland how will they persuade people they are serious musicians? Vee believes If we didn’t do what we like we would have problems about being Smash Hits stars, but if it songs that we have written and love because of the songs we got on a Smash Hits cover, who cares? While Erica says that when people see how they bring their recorded music to the stage that’s when they will win people over.
So with numerous awards and accolades under their belt what’s next for Skamp? ‘We will be based here from now on and try to get the UK and Ireland. Erica continues ‘Get a song on radio now, I think that’s one of the main ways to get noticed and we’d just like to get a lot more gigs and get a new album out here. I think this is a good place to be. It’s good for us to go to get an international deal. With a smile on his face Vee says ‘We want to be the first Lithuanian group to make it internationally.’